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Chinese botanical motifs: orchid

5 March, 2008 (05:00) | china, early modern, paintings | By: xensen

orchids, chiense brush painting by shitao

These leaves from Shitao’s album depict orchids, with an accompanying verse on the opposite page. Orchids are a popular subject for brush painting, in part thanks to their simple, rhythmic form. According to the Met’s entry on this object, “the calligraphy of the poem, in the manner of Zhong You, with its softly undulating strokes and gently rising and fading ink tones, simulates the swaying orchid leaves and blossoms.”

The best-known or at least longest-established orchid in China is the cymbidium (lanhua), which is noted more for its fragrance than its floral display. The opening lines of the verse, which quote the Classic of Songs, allude to this:

Words from a sympathetic heart
Are as fragrant as orchids

The orchid is regarded as a symbol of spring, and the verse goes on to develop this association.

Together with the plum, the chrysanthemum , and the bamboo, the orchid is known as one of the “four gentlemen of flowers.”



Comment from Chris Miller
Time: September 15, 2008, 4:56 am

Here’s some orchids that just got shown in Chicago:


I wouldn’t mind visiting a website that had nothing but orchid paintings – possibly I would never leave it.

Comment from xensen
Time: September 15, 2008, 9:37 am

Thanks, Chris, those are lovely.

I’m away from the museum for a few days but will try to check out Chen Wu when I get back.

Comment from Doug Barnard
Time: February 25, 2009, 4:23 am

Chris, check out the Fine Art section of my site- I’m a Florida painter that specializes in orchids